Which van should I buy?

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We’re increasingly a nation of van lovers, so it seems! According to government road statistics, van traffic on Britain’s roads increased from 9% of total traffic in 1984 to 14% in 2014, and covered an incredible 45bn vehicle miles - the highest ever figure!

Van on road

If you’re thinking of buying a van, you’re far from alone - so here’s what you need to know.

What size van should I buy?

The first thing to consider is what you’ll be using your van for. Will it be a business or commercial van, your family’s main mode of transport or a fully kitted-out camper? Whatever the purpose of your van, size matters, and doing your research before making an impulse buy will pay dividends.

A compact van is no bigger than a car, includes a front passenger seat and usually has a rear hatch, while a small van - such as the VW Caddy or Citroen Berlingo - offers a little extra room again. 

Medium vans tend to have a short wheelbase (SWB), while large vans have a long wheelbase (LWB). The VW transporter is a good example of a van that’s available as both SWB and LWB and is highly versatile; some have up to nine seats, for example, while others have a big loadspace instead of rear seats.
Larger vans, such as the Ford Transit LWB, are excellent for carrying heavier items or camping kit. But bear in mind that they take practice if you’re used to driving a car and they may not fit into a standard car parking space!

row of different sized vans

What van layout do I need?

Your van layout will largely depend on what you’ll be using your van for and transporting in it.

Medium and large vans often have a sliding door on one side and can be known as ‘panel vans’ as they usually have panels, rather than windows, along the sides.

A box van, such as a Luton, consists of a cab with a ‘box’ loadspace sitting high off the ground on the chassis. There are no wheel arches, giving maximum space inside, and usually only rear entry. Due to their height, box vans often have tail lifts, to make loading easier. 

Should I buy a new or second-hand van?

If you're wondering what van to buy, there are pros and cons to both buying a new and second-hand van. A new vehicle can depreciate in value in its first three years by up to 25% and, if you want to sell it on, you may lose out financially. 

On the other hand, choosing a second-hand van could mean sky-high mileage, and you won’t necessarily know of any problems.

A new van is also more likely to come with a longer warranty, covering faults such as with the engine, suspension, ignition, braking system, gearbox and electrics. 

If your van doesn’t come with a warranty, however, you can buy an optional vehicle warranty, a type of insurance policy that covers parts and labour and renews each year.

Never buy a van without test driving it, including on a quiet road where you can perform an emergency stop to see how it handles. If the seller already has the engine running before you jump in, be suspicious. 

If you don’t have much van know-how, ask a more knowledgeable friend to go with you, and always read up before the test drive on how much a van of the same model and year should - Parkers offers a reliable guide.

To help make your decision really easy, take a look at our van finder tool

Common van problems

Did we mention ‘do your research?’ As with all vehicles, things can go wrong, so it’s good to have an idea of potential problems before deciding on the best van to buy. 

The most popular van insured by Admiral Van Insurance is the Ford Transit, which is especially popular with male drivers in the 30-60 age group. First launched in 1965, the transit van has seen huge improvements, but known problems have included damage to the driveshaft and the sudden activation of the tipper bed.

The VW Transporter, dating back to 1950 in its ‘split screen’ guise, is Admiral’s third most insured van for women and men. Volkswagen has an enduring reputation as solid and reliable; however, issues with the dual-mass flywheel aren’t uncommon and can be costly to repair, while the EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) valve is another known niggle-spot. 

With any van, ignore at your peril rattling, knocking or other strange sounds from the engine or other areas and always keep your breakdown cover up to date. 

Even if you’re mechanically-minded, the relatively simple task of changing a tyre can, due to their weight and size, be more difficult compared to that of a car, and you might be glad of roadside assistance. 

Best van for speed


In 2018, VanGuide.co.uk rated the VW Transporter as the fastest van in the UK, recording a speed of 0-62mph in under nine seconds. It was followed by the Mercedes-Benz Vito and the Peugeot Expert in second and third place, with the Renault Trafic and Ford Transit also making the top five.

Speed may be a consideration if you do lots of long-distance or motorway driving in your van, but remember that on some roads you’re subject to a lower speed limit than cars; 50mph on single carriageways and 60mph on dual carriageways, as opposed to 60mph and 70mph respectively. 

Remember, too, that your van might need a bigger turning space and stopping distance than you at first realise, so your focus should always be on driving from A to B as safely, not as speedily, as possible! Don’t forget, penalty points for speeding will often bump up the cost of your van insurance. 

Getting the best van insurance

When you buy a van, it’s essential to get the right van insurance to cover your driving plans. Van insurance categories don’t compare like-for-like with car insurance; for example, if you want business or commercial van insurance, you may find you need own goods or carriage of goods for hire and reward cover to adequately suit your needs.

Admiral has  four levels of van insurance and we’re proud of having the highest rating - five stars - from insurance data experts Defaqto. 

If you have more than one van, adding them all onto one policy could help save you money on your insurance. Take the hassle out of remembering all your vehicles' renewal dates by adding all your vans onto the same policy and they’ll all renew on the same date.

And best of all, each van you add gets its own discount. You’ll be asked if you’d like to add more vans during your quote.

Our comprehensive policies include windscreen repair, European cover and a courtesy van as standard.

5 Star Rated Van Insurance